& Order: Special Villains Unit
it was any secret: The ex treme far right, also increasingly
known as the Republican Party, showed its true un-American
stripes again last week. While parading as the “law and order”
party (“As opposed to what?” he asks rhetorically), Republicans
have long been too willing to simply throw the “law” part
out the window. Once again, the GOP has demonstrated that
it is simply the “order” party, with that order coming at
whatever cost to freedom, justice, the rule of law, and sanity.
To start, let’s accept that Republicans have essentially abdicated
any pretense of participatory democracy or considered argument;
instead they reflexively oppose anything, anything at all,
proposed by Obama and the Democrats. This opposition typically
takes the form of memes and talking points fed to elected
Republican leaders through corporate-financed think tank consultants
and from the fertile, ratings-obsessed minds of folks like
Rush Limbaugh and any number of people at Fox News. You’ve
seen it on an almost daily basis during the past year.
So, it was not surprising, but still disappointing, when the
faux patriots attacked Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision
to try a handful of alleged 9-11 conspirators in U.S. Federal
Court in Manhattan. Not only did they attack Holder, they
attacked, in the most blatant and ridiculous way, our system
These pathetic little white men squawked that the accused
terrorists might be acquitted! They prattled on about “high-priced
defense lawyers” and “juries” and “remember what happened
with OJ.” In other words, the Republican Party is arguing
that our court system is rigged, is a failure, and cannot
be trusted with dispensing justice ever, and especially when
the stakes are high. Ergo, when those stakes are high enough,
we must trash any semblance of the rule of law or justice,
and simply hang whomever comes along.
OK, I’m a little hyperbolic. Maybe. But the fact remains that
the Republican Party is more than willing to marginalize and
demonize our entire judicial system, because, you know, we
gotta make Obama look bad. Nothing else really matters.
The fact is that our criminal justice system has checks and
balances, and that if law enforcement doesn’t do its job right,
bad guys can sometimes go free. The standards of whether law
enforcement is doing its job right is an ever-evolving set
of rules designed to balance personal liberty (also known
as freedom) and public safety. For it to be otherwise would
mean a totalitarian police state, which is apparently what
the Republicans would prefer (with exception made, or course,
for Christian white men with guns).
In a quote well known to every law school student, British
jurist William Blackstone said, “Better that 10 guilty persons
escape than that one innocent suffer.” Meaning that if a criminal
justice system in a civilized society should err, it should
favor innocence—that the imprisonment (in Texas, add death)
of one innocent person is so morally intolerable, so repugnant,
that the price of ensuring that it doesn’t happen is letting
some bad guys go free. This isn’t some new wacky liberal concept.
Blackstone made this statement in the 1700s, right around
the time he coined the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.”
and order” types have a real hard time embracing Blackstone’s
statement. Actually, so do a lot of people, including me.
10? Yeow! I’ll give you maybe five. (For a mind-bending exploration
of what’s become known as “Blackstone’s Quotient,” take a
look at the paper “n Guilty Men” by Alexander Volokh, available
at law.ucla.edu/ volokh/guilty). But most of us are in line
with the general concept.
Now, I’m sure not advocating that these demented, fanatic
terrorists (and I’m not aware there’s anybody out there who
thinks these guys are not, in fact, really terrorists) be
set free. What I am saying, and what Holder is saying, is
that our system of criminal justice is capable of doling out
proper justice transparently, under one set of rules for all.
I’ll note that Holder expects that the prosecution will seek
the death penalty, and will get it.
All this right-wing reflexive and ultimately undemocratic
nonsense is frustrating and infuriating, especially since
so many normal citizens buy into it, hook, line and tea bag.
But again, not surprising. We live in a country that has elected
George W. Bush twice in the last 10 years and there’s
no reason to think that Obama’s election suddenly transformed
the nation into one teeming with intelligence, critical thought,
historical perspective and reason.
But we can continue to hope.